SALISBURY – Quality of life, strong financial conditions and future funding challenges highlighted a report this week on the state of Wicomico County.
On Monday, County Executive Bob Culver presented his 2019 report on the state of Wicomico County at a town hall meeting in Salisbury.
The report, which focused on all departments of county government, reflected on initiatives, events and projects accomplished in the last 12 months.
“I’d like to sum up this year more than anything by saying the quality of life is what we worked on more in 2019 than we have been,” Culver said. “We are financially in a very good condition. Our savings account is doing well, our day-to-day operations are doing well. We feel good about all of those, but the quality of life is something we need to work on.”
In 2019, the county announced the launch of “Warming Up Wicomico” – a program that allows individuals to drop off donated outerwear, socks and blankets at local businesses – as well as “Wicomico Goes Purple,” a campaign to reduce the stigma and highlight the dangers of opioid abuse.
Culver also noted the county’s efforts to fund a shortfall in the Meals on Wheels program.
“Wicomico County stepped up and brought our share of Meals on Wheels [funding], $35,000, and the council moved it forward,” he said.
Culver also highlighted the county’s strong financial position in 2019. In fiscal year 2019, projected income tax revenue exceeded last year’s total by $5.4 million and projected property tax revenue exceeded last year’s total by $1.55 million.
“Our unemployment went down to its lowest, 4%, this year,” he said. “Our property tax, we raised it by $1.5 million. That was done not by tax rates, but by assessments of all the houses.”
Culver said county employees this year received a 2% cost of living adjustment. And pension and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) were funded at 86.3% and 124.9%, respectively.
“A lot of counties throughout the state, a lot of governmental organizations, are way behind on their OPEB,” he said. “But Wicomico County has concentrated on it since I took over as executive, and we’ve become 124% funded. We are not going to slow up on that.”
Despite the county’s sound financial position, Culver noted uncertainties related to the Kirwan Commission’s funding recommendations and the $15 minimum wage.
“We’ve got some big things facing us this year,” he said.
Culver also highlighted capital projects that took place in Wicomico County this year. In the public works department, for example, the roads division resurfaced 89.5 miles of road and trimmed more than 40 miles of roadside trees. And under the recreation, parks and tourism department, the county made improvements to the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium – including the construction of a 360-degree deck – and launched its Project 7.5 initiative for the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex.
“We are excited about and looking forward to what’s going to happen down the road,” Culver said. “We have a lot of things going on, and we’re excited.”
Officials noted that the fiscal years 2021-2025 Capital Improvement Program (CIP), submitted to the county council on Dec. 16, includes funding for three school projects, a new public safety building and improvements at the airport.
“It’s a fairly aggressive CIP,” Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg said. “We have a lot of needs in the county. The question remains are we going to have the resources and the funding available to fulfill those needs. And we can’t honestly answer that question until we see what comes out of Annapolis this upcoming session.”
Strausburg said the county continues to keep an eye on the Kirwan Commission’s proposed spending, as well as other state mandates that could impact the county’s planning document.
“We have to determine how we absorb those costs,” he said. “And until we know what those costs are going to be and how we can absorb them, it’s going to be difficult to make long-term capital spending decisions.”
Culver’s full presentation of the 2019 State of the County report is available at www.wicomicocounty.org.